Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Coming Home

'Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure' is over - at least for the time being. 'Bill and Bob' is one man by the way - a citizen soldier who volunteered to help train the Afghan National Army. He's just returned home.

He was delighted to meet his family, of course, but he had mixed feelings about being re-immersed in the humdrum of life in the United States. Here are some extracts from a post entitled Back in the USA:
"Coming home is an adventure all its own.
"I don't know about the rest of the guys, but it will never be quite the same again for me.
"I ran the last few steps, shedding my laptop bag and backpack, and knelt to hug my daughter and son, oblivious to the rest of the passengers passing through the terminal. My eyes stung. Sweetness.
"It's weird, too.
"Just a few weeks ago, I was in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, aware of the local happenings and the changes that were happening...Now I'm back in Ohio, and nobody cares about any of that.
"I took my children to the mall the week after I arrived back home. I've repeated many times the quote, "America isn't at war. The military is at war. America is at the mall." As I drove towards the mall with my little ones in the their car seats, it occurred to me that I was on my way to the mall now, too. How odd. I laughed to myself.
"But I am not one of them. They cannot see it, but I'm not one of them. I have been at war, and part of me is still there. Perhaps that's what we're actually purchasing with our time spent over there; the peace of mind to go to the mall and not think of Afghanistan or Iraq unless they see a report on the news."
Bill and Bob's writing reminded me of a famous novel written about the First World War.

In Erich Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front', the main character Paul Baumer is on leave in Germany:
'I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world....they are always absorbed in the things that go to make up their existence. Formerly, I lived in just the same way myself, but now I feel no contact here. They talk too much for me. They have worries, aims, desires, that I cannot comprehend...'

'When I see them here, in their rooms, in their offices, about their occupations, I feel an irresistible attraction in it, I would like to be here too and forget the war; but also it repels me, it is so narrow, how can that fill a man's life, he ought to smash it to bits; how can they do it, while out at the front the splinters are whining over the shell-holes and the star-shells go up, the wounded are carried back on waterproof sheets and comrades crouch in the trenches'.
'They are different men here, men I cannot properly understand, whom I envy and despise'.
Coming home from a warzone, whether that's in 1918 or 2008, is a strange experience. Joy, relief, comfort, safety and normality is the prize, but at the same time it takes time to adjust to the loss of comradeship, purpose and something that had become a part of your identity.


Mirandian said...

Hmmmm.....the last para...agree. It's called conditioning.

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